COLA Increase for Veterans Benefits Passes House

A soldier deposits funds into a safe in a finance office, Nov. 4, 2013, at Bagram Air Field, Parwan province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
Military.com | By Richard Sisk

The House on Thursday passed by voice vote an annually required measure to increase cost-of-living adjustments tied to veterans benefits in parity with the COLA approved by the Social Security Administration.

Senate passage and the president's signature would normally be mere formalities, but those could face delays this year as Congress deals with the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted regular schedules.

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Veterans benefits affected by the COLA increase include disability and dependent compensation; clothing allowances; and dependency and indemnity compensation to surviving spouses and children.

The 2018 COLA increase for both veterans and Social Security recipients was 2.0%; it was 2.8% in 2019, according to SSA. Last year saw an increase of 1.6%. It is difficult to project what it might be for 2021 in an economy ravaged by the novel coronavirus.

Since 1975, Social Security COLA increases have been guaranteed by law, but veteran benefits COLAs are not, requiring annual bills to be passed by Congress. Last year, the COLA increase for veterans was approved with no opposition.

The Social Security Administration bases the annual COLA increase for its recipients on the Consumer Price Index, as determined each December by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This year’s bill was introduced by Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia, a retired Navy commander, and co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Bost, R-Illinois, a Marine veteran. Both stressed the need for urgent action by the Senate.

"During this public health emergency, it is more important now than ever to provide this cost-of-living adjustment to disabled veterans who depend on their benefits to pay for necessities," Luria said in a statement Thursday. "I urge my Senate colleagues to quickly pass this economic relief and pay raise for our veterans."

In his own statement Thursday, Bost added, "Now more than ever, it is critical that the men and women who have served our nation receive the benefits they have earned."

The linkage of the veteran COLA increase to Social Security has been a perennial sore point for many vets, who feel it should be tied to military pay raise increases instead.

The 2020 pay raise approved for the military was 3.1%. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a May 7 roundtable with defense reporters that he expects next year's military pay raise to be in the same range.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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